Let Me Just Complain a Little Bit

Winston Churchill, former prime minister of the UK, Nobel Prize winner, British Army officer, historian, artist, and first honorary citizen of the United States is well known for his unapologetic, powerful personality. One of the keys to the development of his personality and leadership qualities is the old english maxim “never complain; never explain.”

His adherence to this principle began as a young officer in the British Army when Churchill advised a senior officer to refrain from responding to a negative newspaper article. By engaging in this petty argument with the press, Churchill argued that the officer’s authority would be undermined, the entire British Army would lose credibility, and it would be a sign everywhere of weakness.

Churchill’s personal loyalty to this principle of avoiding engaging in petty arguments helped to shape him into one of history's greatest and most revered leaders.

As I closely follow the Republican presidential primaries, I have been struck by the contrast between Churchill’s advice to his superior officer and the behavior of many of the candidates. While each candidate possesses a myriad of giftings that qualify them to run for this position, there seems to be a culture on the campaign trail of complaining and making excuses.

For example, Dr. Ben Carson, when asked a question in a primary debate answered, “Well, first of all, let me just complain a little bit. This is the first time I have spoken and several people have had multiple questions. So, please try to pay attention to that.”  Senator Ted Cruz when asked about raising the debt limit used his entire time to berate the moderators, beginning his response with, “Let me say something at the outset. The questions that have been asked so far in this debate illustrate why the American people don’t trust the media. This is not a cage match.”

Senator Marco Rubio, when asked about the fact that he lost $24,000 through being forced by his financial situation to liquidate his retirement fund last year, even though he had just made $800,000 on a book deal, answered, “We’re raising a family in the 21st century, and it's one of the reasons that my tax plan is a pro-family tax plan.” And finally, John Kasich, when asked about his greatest weakness completely ignored the question, instead making a jab at his fellow candidates by stating, "I want to tell you, my great concern is that we are on the verge, perhaps, of picking someone who cannot do this job.”  

These are only a few specific examples of the many times throughout this primary that candidates have complained about debate questions, debate moderators, the amount of time they have to speak, the media, fellow candidates or the leaders of the Republican party. In attempts to appear powerful, candidates have stooped to attacking everything adverse to their election and to engaging in petty squabbles with the media.

Over and over again candidates have avoided tough questions by providing excuses, using attack tactics or completely ignoring the topic altogether. Yes, some questions have been unnecessary and some moderators may have been unfair but this is an extended job interview for one of the most powerful leadership positions in the world.

It is not un-common for a job candidate to be put through a trying process in order to discern his or her eligibility for the job. John Kasich avoided the question about his greatest weakness, and yet in every interview I have ever had, I have been asked this exact question and been expected to provide an answer.

As an American voter, I hold in higher esteem the candidate who understands his or her strengths and weaknesses, and understands how these characteristics affect their actions than the one who attempts to appear flawless. The ability to understand one’s weaknesses and how they affect one’s actions is a valuable character quality, not something to be avoided at all costs.

I believe that when a leader is sure of his or her identity, character, and vision, they do not need to stoop to providing excuses for their mistakes or to complaining when adverse situations arise. A leader who carries him or herself in this manner, proceeding with a clear vision and owning up to personal actions, is an attractive option for the presidency.

I do realize that, like any maxim, there are certainly instances when “never explain; never complain” is not an appropriate course to follow. An explanation of your actions may often be needed, especially in situations when your actions affect those you care for. However, Churchill’s condemnation of complaining and attempting to excuse or explain actions to the public as weakening and inappropriate for a leader still holds truth in today’s politics.

In the next few months we will be choosing the next leader of our country. As we contemplate the best candidate for this position let’s not only focus on their stances on political issues but also on how they carry themselves in public. Do they honor those around them? Is their anger immediately invoked when their perfection is in question? Are they able to admit mistakes?

I know how hard it is to respond to criticism in a humble way. Just last week I was reprimanded for parking in a restricted area and I felt pride induced anger which caused me to attempt to excuse my actions even though I was clearly in the wrong.

The individuals running for election are incredibly gifted individuals, and I do realize that imperfection will always be present in both our leaders and our government. However, patterns of complaining, making excuses for one’s mistakes, and dishonoring others in order to achieve an end, are easily discernible character flaws and important signs that I believe we should take careful heed of when choosing our next president.